Author: johnhawthorne

There’s Something More Important Than the Election

[Some faculty members at Spring Arbor were invited to write something about the election for the fall alumni newsletter. Here’s my submission.]

Like much of America, I can’t seem to stop reading about what’s happening in the presidential race. The major candidates have the highest unfavorable ratings of any two candidates in history. Hardly a day goes by without a new revelation about something one of them did or said which has to be fact checked and analyzed.

The polls provide a snapshot of how potential voters are responding to the candidates. It’s possible to sort support for candidates based upon what characteristics are most important to which subgroups. How do white women with college degrees differ from white men without? Which are leaning toward Clinton? Which are encouraged by Trump’s remarks on national security? The stability of polling has allowed many professional analysts like FiveThirtyEight or Real Clear Politics to make probability estimates on how the Electoral College is likely to turn out.

A quick note about political polling from someone who teaches statistics and research methods: Those polls done by professional organizations are actually quite stable and trustworthy. Yes, there is a margin or error to each individual poll but when they are aggregated over time that margin goes down. The key to polling is to have a sample that reflects the voting population in general. These summary analyses have proven very effective at predicting the eventual outcome of the election in November. This is because they are looking at how states are likely to turn out, which is what the Electoral College is based on, and not on each individual voter. (If you want to know more, drop me an email.)

My real problem with polling is that it focuses all of our attention on November 8th. We can make our own predictions on how the election will turn out and be happy or sad about the outcome depending upon which candidate we were backing.

In my opinion, we shouldn’t be so focused on November. The real questions around the presidential election begin to arise on January 20th. How will the new president lead the country to address the many critical issues that require our attention? Can the rhetoric of a political campaign be translated into appropriate policy? Can the president work with members of the opposition party to advance issues on behalf of the common good?

I am what Andrew Hamilton (of musical fame) called a Federalist. That means that I believe that there is a role for the federal government to play in fostering “a more perfect Union”. We haven’t been very good at that in recent administrations, regardless of party. This is why polls show Americans overwhelming believing that the country is “on the wrong track” and why Congress’ approval rating remains in the single digits.

Our never-ending election seasons have encouraged us to look at political life as a repeated pattern of winners and losers. In reality, we have to work together across party lines to deal with the pressing issues facing us as a society.

This is particularly important for Christian voters to remember. Because we live in a representative democracy, our viewpoints are important voices in the public square but are not the only voices. We also need to remember than some of the people with whom we disagree politically are also Christians striving to follow Jesus. Finally, we need to recognize that many outside the church are evaluating Christianity on the basis for how we engage political discussion.

That preamble to the Constitution is really a remarkable paragraph. Its what should be guiding all of us in our thinking about “We The People”. Regardless of the outcome on November 8th, that’s the important challenge before us.


Demography is Destiny: Religion and Politics

White Christian America

This is a really important book.

Every so often, a piece of research comes along that reframes our understanding of religion in America. As I’ve written before, Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s American Grace was one of those. But Robert Jones work in The End of White Christian America sets an even higher bar. We will be reading about the analysis in this book for the next decade.

Robert (Robbie) Jones is the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. He grew up in Mississippi and earned an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Seminary and a PhD in Religious Studies from Emory. In short, he’s an insider to the world of American religion and offers a sympathetic voice.

Jones does something rather unusual in his book. Rather than obsessing over differences between evangelicals and mainline protestants, he puts them together as two branches of the same family. He then examines the family within the backdrop of Catholicism, Mormonism, Black Protestantism, and the Religious Nones.

The book opens considering the status of major religious groups in the mid-twentieth century. It is a story of religious dominance, of a common worldview that seemed to infuse American Culture. Interestingly, he uses architecture as a way of telling that story. Edifices representing religious life that rose above the skyline eventually give way for very pragmatic economic reasons to being just another building on the horizon.

The real story is one of demography. Rather than getting caught up in arguments about the role of conservative theology versus social accommodation, Jones examines what has happened to the religious population in America. He notes, for example, that the percentage of Americans who are White Protestants fell from just over 50% in the mid 1970s to just over 30% in 2014.

Why? The standard demographic reasons: new members don’t come in fast enough to replace dying members. Some decrease in intergenerational stability (younger generations leaving the church). Birthrates that are lower than those among other groups.

Robbie’s book aligns nicely with another I read this spring: Good Faith by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Their book opens with data on why traditional evangelical positions are seen as irrelevant at best and extreme at worst. Some of the extreme views are no doubt due to the communication methods some evangelicals have used in defending their positions (a point David and Gabe make in their earlier books about the unchurched and the formerly churched).

But the data they report makes perfect sense when seen through the lens of Robbie’s work. To their credit, the balance of Good Faith attempts to give guidance on how evangelicals can operate within an increasingly pluralistic culture.

Robbie’s book opens with an obituary for White Christian America and ends with a eulogy. His final chapter uses Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ five stages of grief to talk about WCA. It’s easy to see in operation. There is much depression, anger, and bargaining about the decline of Christian centrality in American life. It is no surprise that those most upset about the increasing diversity are from people my generation and older.

The defense of religious freedom is an example of the shifting ground. There has been a presumption that “religious freedom” has meant the freedom to be White Christian America. This is where RFRA laws have gone off the rails because its hard to provide a constitutional justification for a particularized interpretation of whose freedom is protected (more coming in my next post). Major kudos to ERLC president Russell Moore for his robust and far-reaching defense of religious freedom in a recent public meeting.

The shifts in religious alignment have a parallel in political alignment. Thousands of words have been written this year on evangelicals voting Republican, especially for Donald Trump. The truth is that most mainline protestants have tilted Republican as well. But the demographic changes affecting American Religion are also present in our electoral maps.

Robbie JonesWhile on vacation in New York City recently, I got to hear Jones present on the book. Naturally, politics was an important topic of discussion. He shared a chart that showed that White Christian voters will make up 55% of the electorate this year. They are still a majority because as a group they are more likely to vote than other groups. But in 1992, WC voters made up just under 3 in 4 voters. By the 2024 election, they will be in a numeric minority. Even with today’s numbers, it doesn’t take much of a shift in political alignment for the assumed linkage between religion and political party to be breached.

This is why evangelicals are so politically active this year. That’s not to suggest that they aren’t sincere in their concerns over Roe or Obergefell and future Supreme Court actions. Its not to suggest that they aren’t concerned about infringements on what they see as life as normal. But they sense that this is a last gasp. As Marco Rubio likes to put it, someone is out to “fundamentally transform” American society.

The challenge is that the transformation isn’t coming from Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. It’s happening in our midst as we become an increasingly pluralistic society.

One of Jones’ big findings out of his data set is that many in WCA are what he calls “nostalgia voters”. They look favorably on how things used to be (albeit selectively). This will no doubt be a major part of Trump’s meetings with evangelicals today.

But demography really is destiny. We aren’t going back to some earlier day when we all agreed on a set of taken-for-granted religious tenets. And a secular constitution doesn’t give us a backstop for that anyway.

The book isn’t perfect, as critics have suggested. By focusing on protestants, the impact of hispanic Catholics in underplayed. The role of immigrants seeing America as a mission field isn’t explored. These are fair critiques.

But I’d argue that when religious leaders and religion writers express concern about the changing nature of religion, they are looking primarily at White Protestants. (Black Evangelicals, for example, have received very little press in this election.)

While Jones addresses the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, he ends the book before we get to acceptance. I think this is an accurate read. But the coming decade will require White Christian America to figure out its place in a changing society, to find the means of prophetic and faithful witness.

It may well be that the biggest influence of White Christian America will come because they have to engage others in the broad conversations about how we live together in an increasingly complex and diverse society.


Seven Confusing Things from Trump’s Acceptance Speech

While I followed a lot of the Republic National Convention via social media rather than watching live, I thought it was an important civic duty to watch Ivanka’s introduction of Donald Trump and to see his speech in real time (without reading the advanced copy). Like everyone else I found it hard to hear, overly dark, harsh, loud, and troubling.

CRJ Trump
Columbia Journalism Review

But mostly I found it confusing. There were a number of things that raised significant questions for me that I wanted someone to explain. If you liked the speech, maybe you can help me. So here is a list of ten things that really confused me.

  1. The Use of Statistics. Trump made references to homicides for 2015 in the 50 largest cities and compared the numbers to 2014. He cited a 50% increase in Baltimore (without a comparison date). But this data was lacking context. There was a passing reference to crime rates declining over time — which is indisputable — but the data appeared cherry picked to support a pre-existing argument. This was true for police shootings and mass shootings as well. On economic news, he talked of 58% of African American youth that were unemployed or 14 million people who have left the workforce without referencing that the former includes people who are in school and the latter includes retirees. In almost every data point shared, my response was “wait, what?”.
  2. Whose Jurisdiction? Trump promised that on January 20, 2017 safety will be restored to our  communities. But I teach criminal justice and know that law enforcement, like education, is a local issue. Presidents may use the bully pulpit to encourage action and may use budget incentives to promote certain behaviors, but controlling crime is not a national issue especially at the presidential level. Unless, of course, a president wants to use the military in crime control and I’m pretty sure that’s not what he meant. He said he would appoint the best prosecutors and law enforcement officers, even though this isn’t the president’s job.
  3. Separation of Powers. One of the words you will not find in the text of Trump’s speech is the word “Congress”. There were no references to asking congress to fast track his policy priorities. There was no recognition of the advice and consent role of the Senate or the budgetary authority of the House. Instead, nearly every “policy” matter was followed with “When I am president, I will…”. But it was not at all clear how those would issues would be turned into law except through executive order.
  4. The problem of small numbers. Many of the personal harm stories shared at the convention had a similar problem. A horrific act occurred to a family that involved an illegal immigrant. Maybe it was a car crash. Or it was the sad story of the young woman in Nebraska who was killed by a formerly deported undocumented immigrant. But making the linkage between the general policy of immigration reform and the specifics of the horrific case was really disturbing. There is virtually no way of stopping one bad actor out of 180,000 immigrants you’re concerned about. The car accident could have occurred due to a range of other people who drove under the influence. To focus on such isolated cases is bad enough (too much of the media does this) but to promise that it will not happen again is hard to fathom.
  5. The Free Market and the Government: Trump rightly complained about companies that felt no loyalty to their local communities. He recognized that there are economic incentives that make taking jobs to another country look like good business. Trump claimed that he wouldn’t allow companies to leave the country without consequences. It’s not clear at all where the authority to stop them comes from or how consequences would be legitimated (to say nothing of passing constitutional muster).
  6. An expanded federal role. He will expand the military, repair infrastructure, rework the TSA, insure quality education for all students, deal with the criminal justice issues, make our neighborhoods safe, expand our investigation into immigrants from terrorism threatened countries, and fix the VA. Doing all this, especially as fast as he said he would do it, would require a massive expansion of the federal workforce and a significant Keynesian investment of federal dollars. Yes, he wants foreign governments to pay their NATO bills and have a review of waste, fraud, and abuse but there’s no way around a massive shift in authority to the federal level from states and localities.
  7. Timing. In his delivered address (as opposed to the prepared text) Trump argued that all of this would happen Soon. This wasn’t a description of things he’d like to do during the first term — these were changes that would be happening within days, weeks, and months of the inauguration. Maybe this is the way things can happen when you have a worldwide business organization with just over 22,000 employees (according to Wikipedia). But the federal government is a huge responsibility and has all kinds of imbedded legal requirements and decision making processes. I really wanted to get some idea that he appreciated that difference in magnitude.

Maybe there are direct answers to everyone of the issues I’ve raised. If so, please fill me in.

When did “not being politically correct” become Politically Correct?

In the fast few years, critics from a variety of perspectives have decried a reliance on Political Correctness. The argument seems to be that by being careful with our language or sensitive to how it would be heard, we are avoiding certain conversations we ought to be having, coddling those who don’t want their existing views challenged, or somehow denying individuals free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

This attack on Political Correctness has been a useful rhetorical device during the now-ended Republican primary campaign. As this week showed, there is a belief that it is for fear of hurting people’s feelings that we won’t use the phrase Radical Islamic Terrorism. We can’t claim Black Lives Matter because that would disparage police officers and paper over issues that exist with intra-racial crime. We can’t talk of systemic racism in the criminal justice system because that asserts that police officers are working from racist motives.

Politically CorrectYesterday, the Pew Research folks released this data on Political Correctness. It shows that six in ten registered voters find that people are too easily offended by what people say. Not surprisingly, there is a clear partisan divide on this topic. For Republicans nearly 8 in 10 see people as worrying too much about being PC while for Democrats, the number is less than 4 in 10.

This is a complicated topic. Recent topics in higher education news include students requiring “trigger warnings” about readings that might upset them, about political positions taken by professors, about speakers invited to campus or disinvited from campus.

We’ve watched a campaign full of vindictive nicknames and hyperbolic claims. Fact-checking seems irrelevant and the media invents a number of new euphemisms for “lying”.

Those who complain are seen as thin skinned and not understanding what strength looks like. Many of Trump’s supporters claim to like him because he says what he thinks regardless of how it might be taken by others.

I’m still stuck trying to figure out how we got here. It is tempting to blame social media for this. When working in 140 characters, nuance is impossible. And outrageous comments somehow generate more traffic. But our tendency to talk in catchphrases is older than that.

Maybe it relates to the expanded role of the Internet as a tool in position-taking. When sharing an interesting story on social media, I have often written “Don’t read the comments!

I have come to believe that I was wrong. We should always read the comments. Because the harsh statements that people make are indicative of what too many are willing to say in their closed circles.

It’s not just that people aren’t worrying about offending people in the comments section. THEY MEAN TO OFFEND. That’s why the ad hominem attacks on the Bible Thumper or the LibTard are so common. Saying the harsh thing is designed to put the hearer/reader is his or her place.

I still think there is value in Political Correctness. Being Politically Correct means understanding that you are speaking in generalities. It is not politically weak to say we are worried about terrorists who have distorted Islam for their own purposes. It is not weak to argue that police officers would be better served to learn de-escalation techniques rather than shooting counselors laying down in the street.

Being Politically Correct means that you recognize that words matter. They bring stories to life. It is not coddling to suggest that students who have a history of sexual assault should know that what they are reading in class may be too close to their past situation.

Being Politically Correct means that you are careful with your claims so as not to overstate. To say that shootings are a problem in certain cities isn’t as exciting as saying crime is epidemic, but it shows that the speaker cares enough about the truth to keep context. I can worry about homicides in Chicago without making it a national issue (or subtly connecting it to race).

It’s going to be a long haul until we get through this election. Regardless of who wins, the transition to the next administration will be challenging. The losing party won’t just say, “Better luck in 2020“. They will be upset and likely angry. They’ve been told that we are fundamentally altering what it means to be America (thanks, Marco!).

But being Politically Incorrect will not serve us in the year to come. The least we can do is to remember some of the basic issues of civil discourse as we deal with those other than ourselves.


A Quick Note on “the Johnson Amendment”

Part of recent campaign rhetoric involves a significant misunderstanding of what is known as “the Johnson Amendment”. To hear some tell it, the amendment is a terrific infringement on freedom of religion. This is simply not true.

When I mentioned this on twitter, my interlocutor wryly observed: “You’re trying to make a logical point? In this election?

Call me an idealist; it wouldn’t be the first time.

When I read of Donald Trump or evangelical leaders complain about the amendment, it makes it sound like a deliberate attempt to keep religion out of the public square. It feeds the anti-Democratic biases to continue to attach the regulation to Lyndon Johnson.

Here is the backstory. The federal government has allowed philanthropic gifts to non-profit organizations to be tax deductible since 1918. In the 1943 Tax Law, there were limits placed on the political activities of those organizations as part of their tax exempt status. When the Tax Code came up for review in 1954, then Senator Lyndon Johnson added an amendment to the 501c(3) section that prohibits the organization from directly endorsing a particular candidate or working directly against a particular candidate.

eisenhower_signingThe amendment was considered by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate. It was included in the 1954 Tax Reform Act and signed into law by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower (this is a generic picture of Eisenhower signing something, not the 1954 Law).

Wikipedia describes the impact of the amendment as follows: “Organizations recognized under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code are subject to limits or absolute prohibitions on engaging in political activities and risk loss of tax exempt status if violated. Specifically, they are prohibited from conducting political campaign activities to intervene in elections to public office.

It’s important to keep in mind that the restriction on a tax-exempt organization is limited to its official capacity and not to its leadership. So when people suggest that ministers cannot endorse candidates, that’s false (ask Jerry Fallwell, Jr. or Robert Jeffress). If, on the other hand, Liberty University or Dallas First Baptist endorsed a candidate, then it’s a violation.

While I agree that the city of Houston overreached when going after pastors who opposed the city non-discrimination ordinance, this was part of the logic that was being pursued. Were the ministers, acting in their official capacity within the church, engaged in lobbying? (Which, by the way, was already a legal prohibition before 1954.) It would be difficult to prove and it was a terrible precedent but it’s not unreasonable given the law.

So does that mean that Christian folks have no recourse in the public square? Of course not. They are free to act as private citizens and advocate in any way they please. In addition, they have the potential of forming a 501c(4), which IS allowed to work on behalf of candidates, as long as candidate advocacy isn’t the primary focus.

For example, the Family Research Council is a 501c(3) and can advocate for their concerns by must stop short of political action. On the other hand, Family Research Action is a designated 501c(4) and is allowed to engage in candidate advocacy and position endorsement.

The Republican National Committee Platform this week calls for overturning the “Johnson Amendment”, allowing non-profits to engage in political advocacy without endangering their tax exempt status. The reporting on this is a little unclear. While many sites refer to this as removing limitations on churches, it seems that removing the Johnson language would impact all non-profits. To make allowance for churches to have advocacy but not other groups would have significant challenges to the 1st amendment (non-establishment) and 14th amendment (equal protection).

The distinction between 501c(3) and 501c(4) organizations apply to more than just churches. Planned Parenthood is a 501c(3) and cannot endorse candidates. On the other hand, Planned Parenthood Action is a 501c(4) that endorsed Hillary Clinton.

To recap: the current language on non-profit restrictions of political action was made law under Republican control of government, there is no limitation on ministers or their laity from engaging in personal endorsement of a candidate, other tax-exempt avenues are available for religious folks wishing to organize to impact public policy, and changes to the law would have wide-reaching impacts.

Newt Gingrich might be very interested to learn that dropping the Johnson Amendment would allow his hypothetical mosque to directly advocate for Sharia Law. I really don’t think that’s what the RNC is after.

As my twitter friend observed, I’m yelling into the wind. But maybe it will have some small impact the next time someone tells you that Johnson took away our right to make our religious views known.

Evangelicals are Supporting Trump? I’m shocked, shocked!

Yesterday, my social media feed exploded with news coming out of the Pew Research Center. Based on polling done over the last two weeks, they found that 78% of white evangelicals supported Trump for president, a figure that is actually stronger than that expressed for Mitt Romney at the same point in 2012.

Pew Trump

In fact, white evangelicals are 10 percentage points higher on strong support than was true for Romney. My response to this data is to quote Captain Renault in Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on in (Rick’s club)“.

This data shouldn’t be surprising for several reasons.

First, there is the matter of historical pattern. When we got to the conclusion of the 2012 election, white evangelicals supported Mitt Romney by 79% to 21%. That’s one percent better than Romney did among Mormons! Nothing that has happened in the past four years should have led anyone to expect those patterns to shift substantially.

Second, as I’ve written before, it’s possible that the evangelical vote is actually reflecting a set of other co-variants that correlate with voting Republican: Southern, rural, high school educated, small government, working class, concern over immigration. It’s very difficult to parse the independent impact of an evangelical identity (even controlling for theology and church attendance). To the extent that all of these factors correlate to some degree, this finding would be somewhat expected.

Third, Lydia Bean observed in her book (as I quoted recently) that for many American Evangelicals the perceived moral decline of society is placed at the feet of liberal Democrats. (This is not the case in her Canadian churches.) So when bright line social issues like opposition to abortion and concern over same-sex marriage stand as markers of identity, and the Democrats are on the other side of those arguments, it’s hard to see white evangelicals who might switch parties in the face of Mr. Trump’s personal background and rhetorical style. This helps explain why the evangelical summit was important to Trump. It is in line with Pastor Robert Jeffress saying that “we need a mean son of a you know what” to shake things up. It’s why evangelicals have been telling themselves that we don’t need a pastor in chief. Voting for the other side is a bridge too far.

Fourth, there is a clear alignment between some sectors of the evangelical world and conservative Republican causes. Two weeks ago, Colorado Christian University hosted the Western Conservative Summit. The speakers list is a who’s who of Republican favorites. During the Republican primaries, candidates spoke at a number of Christian universities (who were mostly very careful not to endorse). While other evangelical institutions have gone out of their way to be places of dialogue without party affiliation, they are in the minority.

Fifth, the data reflects shifting age demographics. I just got my copy of The Death of White Christian America by Robert Jones of PRRI in the mail today. While I haven’t read it, I did watch a live event he did at Brookings on Monday (and am pleased to be attending an event in NYC on the 27th). In his remarks, Robbie spoke to why attitudes toward same-sex marriage haven’t shifted as much among White Evangelicals as among other groups. He suggested that there is evidence that some young people are shifting out of evangelical groups because of the evangelical stance on same-sex marriage. The result is that the percentages remain stable because the moderating forces are departing the fold. This is consistent with anecdotal information found in works by Robert Putnam and David Campbell (American Grace), David Kinnaman (You Lost Me), Vern Bengston (Families and Faith), and Wes Markofsky (The New Monasticism). If a segment of millennials feel that evangelicalism is too wedded to partisan politics and thereby leave evangelicalism, the percentage that remain evangelical will show up as more conservative.

Sixth, there is some relationship between race and the electorate. The same day that the Pew Survey was released, an NBC/Marist poll found that Donald Trump’s support among Blacks in Ohio and Pennsylvania had hit 0.0%. To the extent that our churches (both evangelical and mainline) are too segregated, we’d expect the kinds of patterns shown in the Pew data to be consistent.

Sociologists, political scientists, and religion reporters will spend most of the next two years trying to figure out what all this means for the relationship between politics and evangelical faith. If the current FiveThirtyEight model holds, there is a 2 in 3 chance of a Democratic victory.

Since that kind of loss feeds the dominant narrative the Lydia Bean and the Western Conservative Summit describe, it’s hard to see these patterns shifting in the future. I would expect the percentages claiming to be evangelical to shift but not the percentage Republican within that group.


The Promise of Confident Pluralism

I’ve been following the work of John Inazu for about 18 months now. Anytime he posts something in Christianity Today, I know it will be thoughtful, non-reactionary, and optimistic. It’s a breath of fresh air when too much of Christian media is caught up in “sky is falling” analysis.

John is an associate professor of law and political science at Washington University in St. Louis. I had been eagerly anticipating his book release and when I got my copy on Saturday I read the whole thing in one sitting. It offers as much hope and optimism as i thought it would. For those concerned about religious freedoms in a pluralistic culture, it’s a very worthwhile read.

InazuThe book is an interesting combination of constitutional legal analysis and commitment to certain civic principles. Interestingly, the phrase “confident pluralism” is taken from an amicus brief filed in a famous California law school case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which challenged “all comers” policies when it came to religious groups in secular institutions. The brief was filed by a gay rights group in support of the CLS position.

Here’s how John describes confident pluralism in the introduction to the book:

The goal of confident pluralism is not to settle which views are right and which views are wrong. Rather, it proposes that the future of our democratic experiment requires finding a way to be steadfast in our personal convictions, while also making room for the cacophony that may ensue when others disagree with us. Confident pluralism allows us to function — and even to flourish — despite the divisions arising out of our deeply held beliefs (8).

Important to his argument is the Madisonian balance between the majority and the minority on a variety of issues. Russell Moore of the ERLC made a marvelous defense of religious freedom for Muslims, to the dismay of some listeners. But this is exactly the point about allowing for the inclusion of others into the rights we protect. At the same time, there is legitimate interest in protecting the dissent rights of those who stand counter to the prevailing mood. Much of the religious freedom legislation is caught up in trying to navigate this balance and Inazu explores how Supreme Court decisions have made this balance more difficult.

He argues that the “right to assemble” has been an underdeveloped component of constitutional jurisprudence. John characterizes this right to gather with like-minded others as a key protection in the First Amendment, even though the Court hasn’t recognized it as such. With this perspective, the right of an InterVarsity group to want its leadership to endorse its views or a Christian University to limit student behavior takes on a different light. I have argued the other side of some of these issues based on the law as it stands, but I find John’s argument persuasive.

But he doesn’t leave it there, which is where the pluralism comes in. If all we had were groups that were formed around particular interests, the result would be a balkanized society. Coser’s conflict theory argues that group cohesion is aided by having an out-group to be against. Inazu argues that we need forums, both governmental and private, that allow for robust interaction around issues of import.

[These forums] are an essential part of confident pluralism because they allow citizens and the groups that they form to advocate, protest, and witness in common spaces — and they are insufficiently protected under current constitutional doctrine (9).

His next constitutional issue deals with the limitations of public funding for groups that fall outside the mainstream. He deals with the issue of tax exemption, exploring not only the Bob Jones decision but also a feminist magazine. If public funding is generally available, it should be so without forces pushing conformity.

The public funding requirement insists that generally available resources are made available to any student organization. That principle should protect Christian groups in the current political climate on progressive school campuses. It should also protect atheist or LGBT groups on conservative public school campuses (80).

These constitutional provisions are necessary but not sufficient conditions of confident pluralism. They are accompanied by a set of civic principles that would govern how we relate to those who are different from us.

The exercise of tolerance, he argues, is based on a recognition that we can disagree on ideas and values but not on personal worth. We can differ without demonizing. John describes some speech norms that can help us here, namely by avoiding character attacks and conversation stoppers. To see examples of both of these, go read the comments section on just about anything on the internet. In this light, “political correctness” has become a conversation stopper when I would argue that it really is a significant issue that requires serious attention. More on this in my next post.

We may engage in protests or boycotts to make our voices heard, but these still fall within the constraints of tolerance and speech norms that would govern public forums. In addition, our goal is to actually build working relationships between differing groups even if the value separations cannot be overcome. This part of the book draws on a fascinating history of the connections between Jerry Falwell, Sr. and Hustler publisher Larry Flynt. If they can find ways of developing mutuality, even while disagreeing vehemently on core values, so can any of us.

I have written much, along with many others, about what it means to live in a post-Christian society, to be in a context where religious values are not a default position. I saw research cited today that a significant percentage of a sample was unconcerned with the question “If you were to die tonight…”. The reality is that there are lots of people who don’t think like evangelicals do.

When confronted with that reality, one option is to embrace nostalgia. The PRRI reports that 70% of white evangelicals feel society has gotten worse since the 1950s. Another option is to cry persecution, that “they” are out to get “us”. This requires an understanding of “their” motivations that we don’t often have, finding it far easier to impute motive. A third option is to crave the political and symbolic power to make sure our view is held in favor — making sure our stores say “Merry Christmas”, for example.

What John Inazu offers is something much harder, something more promising, and something ultimately more Christian. To engage others as valuable people, to find ways of engaging our differences, and managing to live confidently as people of faith in a changing culture.